Windward Bound, the debut recording by the Toronto-based Dennis Kwok Jazz Orchestra, consists of a six-part suite "for jazz orchestra and multiple woodwind soloist." It is perhaps more than coincidental that Kwok, who wrote and arranged the sequence of tone poems based in part on his teen-age memories of sailing on Lake Ontario, also plays alto, tenor, soprano and baritone saxophones, oboe, clarinet, flute, alto flute, piccolo and bass clarinet. In other words, multiple woodwinds.
Versatile as he is, Kwok doesn't monopolize the blowing space, although he does solo on all but the first and last movements of the suite. Caity Gyorgy's wordless voice is heard on Part I, "The Calling," Marie Goudy's trumpet on Part VI, "Red, Right, Returning." Among all the pieces, "The Calling" is the most picturesque and evocative with sounds of the sea and seashore predominating before Gyorgi adds an even more haunting soliloquy toward its end. The suite weighs anchor on Part II, "Ready, Aye, Ready," a heartier excursion on which Kwok's burnished alto sax and Jacob Wutzke's broad-shouldered drum work help steady the craft. Wutzke is again at the fore on the lively Part III, "A Flat Boat is a Fast Boat," wherein Kwok trades his alto for a baritone and solos briskly alongside tenor Naomi McCarroll-Butler and guitarist Aidan Funston.
The voyage encounters troubled waters on Part IV, "The Tempest," listing stridently from fore to aft in spite of the best efforts of trombonist Nick Marshall and Kwok (on soprano) to right the ship. In the end, disharmony has the last word, leading to the serene and quiet "Elegy," underlined by Kwok's unruffled baritone and more soft voicings by Gyorgi. "Red, Right, Return" is delightful, melodically and rhythmically, bringing the voyage to a bright and pleasurable conclusion, enriched by Goudy's expressive trumpet and further colorful sounds of sea and shore. Kwok's orchestra, formed in 2017 and encompassing nineteen musicians under age thirty-five from the southern Ontario region, proves more than seaworthy, lending Kwok's impassioned charts all the spirit and substance they require. In other words, an impressive debut all 'round and an intriguing harbinger of voyages yet to come.
Part I. The Calling, Part II. Ready Aye Ready, Part III. A Flat Boat is a Fast Boat, Part IV. The Tempest, Part V. Elegy, Part VI.
Red Right Returning
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